PEERING OUT over Bijasan Ghat, the gateway from Maharashtra to Madhya Pradesh and beyond, Sambhu Rajbhar struggled to control the surge of anger, frustration and dismay. It’s been two days, and he’s not been able to get on a bus that would take him to the next border — the next milestone in his long journey home to UP’s Maharajganj district near the Nepal border.
He’s not alone. Across two days last week, around 13,000 migrants from Maharashtra had reached the ghat in Barwani district, seeking the comfort of home and family in UP, Bihar, Jharkhand, Odisha and West Bengal in the middle of the Covid pandemic.
But unlike Rajbhar, a plumber from Mumbai, many were not able to wait it out. On Thursday, several of them clashed with police, throwing bricks and blocking the highway.
Since May 10, when the Maharashtra government started ferrying migrant workers in state buses to the ghat to stop them from walking to their hometowns, this outpost has turned into a battleground for seats on the buses.
According to transport officials in Maharashtra, around 1.36 lakh migrants have been ferried to different state borders. “Nearly 70 per cent of those were dropped at the MP border,” said a senior official.
“More than 10,000 migrants are being dropped here on an average every day. We have now asked Maharashtra to ease the influx a little. The borders to other states are about 600 km away. It’s not possible for the buses to return from those points soon enough to clear this rush,” said D R Teniwar, the Barwani SP.
At the border, separate pick-up and drop-off points have been set up — and large tents earmarked for different states. The buses from Maharashtra halt about 300m inside MP near the Mata Mandir at the ghat. The pick-up point from where the migrants will be ferried onward are in Bhawargad village, about a km away.
“Now, how will we get out of this place?” asked Rakesh Burma, a 40-year-old worker soon after getting off a bus and moving to the “Uttar Pradesh tent”. “I have Rs 400 in my pocket… I started walking from Surat and entered Maharashtra, where I was stopped and put on a state bus.”
Burma was asked to walk across to the pick-up point, where several hundreds were waiting since the night before.
“No one is bothered about us,” said Akhtar Khan, 37, who had been waiting for a day and night for a bus to Jharkhand. “We were asked to form queues and have been standing under the hot sun but where are the buses?”
Ramesh Mane, 22, was part of a group of 50 waiting for a bus to Odisha. “We want just one bus, but they are not sending any,” said Mane, who worked as a labourer in Mumbai, and was dropped at the border around 2 am the previous night.
“We can’t be sitting here forever,” said Raj Mangaj Yadav, a carpenter from Mumbai. “I was hit with a lathi by a policeman for crossing the highway to fetch some water to drink. We were dropped off last night and given dal khichdi… but we haven’t got any food since we reached the pick-up point.”
Given the bitterness on the ground, the MP government worked out a “temporary” solution by organising 20 buses to take some of these migrants to another transit point in Dewas, about 200 km away. But as soon as those buses arrived, thousands rushed to get a spot.
“At one point, there were over 13,000 migrants here, and there were not enough buses to clear them all. We had about 141 buses since morning but it takes time for these buses to return. Another 20 buses have reached and more are on the way. Much of the rush has been cleared,” said a police officer at the ghat.
“This border tehsil (Sendhwa) is poorly connected. Private buses have been roped in with co-ordination from the transport department,” said the officer.
Back at the drop point, buses continued to stream in from Maharashtra. One of those who got off was 29-year old Rajendra, a wheelchair-bound pan shop owner in Mumbai. Making his way to a policeman on duty, he asked: “How do we go from here?”
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